Does biological evolution occur
without purpose and without God?

This page (assembled and edited by Craig Rusbult) contains excerpts from papers & letters in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (journal of the American Scientific Affiliation) written by John McIntyre, Douglas Hayworth, and David Lahti.  It describes two logical fallacies — one made by prominent atheistic evolutionists, and another made by some Christians (including McIntyre) — about non-scientific aspects of biological evolution.  It ends with a fascinating story (told with more detail in NABT & Evolution) about a science education organization that temporarily used the first fallacy in their official statement about evolution.

The two fallacies are briefly summarized by Douglas Hayworth:
• a dismissal of God's existence [by atheistic evolutionists] is not logically warranted on the basis of evolutionary theory;
• a belief in God does not logically warrant antagonism [by some Christians] to evolution as science.

color coding in this page:  editor's comments and transitions are in green, while everything in black is quoted excerpts, with occasional clarifications [enclosed in brackets] added by the editor.

        The series begins with Evolution's Fatal Flaw by John McIntyre. (September 1999) (11 k + 8k)
        His introduction, describing the
"Character of the Flaw," concludes that "with a logical fallacy incorporated into the theory of evolution, conclusions drawn from it cannot be trusted.  If conclusions from the theory of evolution cannot be trusted, then the theory of evolution is worthless — indeed, a fatal flaw."

        He continues by explaining the flaw:
        The logical fallacy appears in the evolutionists' understanding of evolution itself.  This understanding is expressed, for example, in the popular description of evolution by George Gaylord Simpson: "The meaning of evolution is that man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind." {quoting G.G. Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution, 1953}
        Here, the logical fallacy reveals itself immediately.  Evolution is said to be a purposeless and materialistic process.  Indisputably, evolution is a materialistic process [because it occurs in the material world and we can learn about it by using materialistic observations & measurements].  But these materialistic measurements can tell us nothing about the purpose behind evolution, since "purpose" lies outside the materialistic world.  Furthermore, by introducing "purpose," Simpson necessarily introduces an agent exercising purpose.  Thus, Simpson draws the conclusion that there is no agent (God) exercising purpose outside the materialistic universe from information gained inside the materialistic universe.  It is as though Hamlet concluded that there were no Shakespeare because he could not find Shakespeare within the confines of the play. .....  [because Simpson] can describe evolution in the materialistic universe without using the concept of purpose, [he claims there is no purpose and no God].

        To show that this fallacy is widespread, he quotes from three more authors:
        "The ancient covenant is in pieces; man knows at last that he is alone in the universe's unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance."  Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity (Random House, 1972), 180.
        "Some shrink from the conclusion that the human species was not designed, has no purpose, and is the product of mere mechanical mechanisms — but this seems to be the message of evolution."  D.J. Futuyma, Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution (Pantheon, 1983), 12–3.
        "The evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design" [is stated in the title of a book by] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (Norton, 1986).  .....

        We have a public demonstration of the foolishness that comes over people when they oppose God — as we observe evolutionists repeatedly using a logically invalid argument to attack the God of purpose and design. .....
        Since a logically invalid argument must be used in order to proceed from the materialistic content of evolution to the conclusion that there is no Maker of heaven and earth who has a purpose for his creation, Christians, then, should recognize that no conclusions about purpose or design in the universe can be based on [the fact that we can construct] a materialistic description of the universe.  Beliefs, such as those in the Apostles' Creed — "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth" — are thus secure from the conclusions of any argument based on the materialistic content of evolution.  No longer do Christians need to be concerned about the content of materialistic evolution, since conclusions about religious beliefs can be drawn from this content only through the use of a logically invalid argument. .....
        The public has been told that the imperial science of evolution has triumphed over the Bible.  Today, however, this imperial science must incorporate a logically invalid argument to attack the Bible and its purposeful God.  The time has come for the public to recognize that this emperor of science has no clothes.

        McIntyre's Fatal Flaw is a response from Douglas Hayworth.  (March 2000) (3 k)

        Hayworth agrees that "there is, no doubt, a logical flaw in the four quoted statements cited by McIntyre, and they are statements made by some prominent evolutionary biologists."  But he disagrees with McIntyre's title (stating that evolution has a fatal flaw) and conclusion that, quoting McIntyre, "with a logical fallacy incorporated into the theory of evolution, conclusions drawn from it cannot be trusted, and if conclusions from the theory of evolution cannot be trusted, then the theory of evolution is worthless," because this broad conclusion is based on a failure to distinguish between the science of evolution and the scientism that claims evolution as support.  Hayworth says,

        McIntyre specifically claims that his article addresses a flaw at "the heart of the theory of evolution" and the "understanding of evolution itself."  The ASA has repeatedly stressed the importance of clarifying evolution as science and distinguishing different hierarchical levels in the meaning of the term "evolution."  McIntyre's piece muddies these distinctions.  What meaning is intended in the title?  The implication made in the title, opening sentence, and tone of the overall article seems quite different from what is actually delivered.  In fact, all aspects of evolution as science (micro-, macro-, common ancestry, that is, what good scientists consider to be the "heart of evolutionary theory") come through unscathed by McIntyre's attack.  Had the article been directed more precisely and clearly at scientism, then the title of the article could be forgiven as poetic license. .....

        Despite my problems with the article, I believe McIntyre provides a useful reminder of what many others have shown before: a dismissal of God's existence is not logically warranted on the basis of evolutionary theory.  As an equally useful reminder for Christians, I would add that a belief in God does not logically warrant antagonism to evolution as science.  Let's be more precise in our finger pointing and less carried away by catchy titles.   [emphasis added by editor]

        One Spiritual Danger in Creationism: Drawing a Red Herring Across a Track by David Lahti, is more than a response — it's a full essay, with excellent quality, about important ideas.  (June 2000) (12 k)

        ... The phrase "red herring" denotes the practice in reasoning or debate of commencing an argument toward one conclusion, but at some point subtly veering from this and concluding something else entirely.  This is a logical fallacy, an error in reasoning.

        The "red herring" figures in a particular form of argument commonly advanced by creationists. ...  The form of argument is as follows:
        • Premise 1:  Particular proponents of biological evolution (A, B, etc.) say x or incorporate x in their understanding of the concept of evolution.
        • Premise 2:  x is repudiated by Christianity or is scientifically unfounded.
        • Conclusion:  Evolution is repudiated by Christianity or is scientifically unfounded.
        We start with the premises on the path to discussing the merits of A's and B's view x.  This is called into question, and the reasonable conclusion would be that A and B are wrong in this area.  However, instead of arriving there, the "red herring" of biological evolution is dragged across the path and leads the reader or hearer astray.  The strategy is to discredit evolution by showing that a particular view x is wrong, without demonstrating any necessary connection (whether logical, conceptual, or empirical) between x and evolution.

        A recent example of the use of this strategy is an argument by John McIntyre, which can be summarized as follows (in his words):
        • Premise 1: "A consensus, then, appears to have developed among the leaders of evolution," the roster of which includes, but is not limited to:  Richard Dawkins, Douglas Futuyma, Jacques Monod, and G.G. Simpson.  By these people "evolution is said to be a purposeless and materialistic process."
        • Premise 2: "The absence of the designer within the materialistic universe cannot logically lead to a conclusion that there is no designer outside the materialistic universe." Again, "... materialistic measurements can tell us nothing about the purpose behind evolution, since 'purpose' lies outside the materialistic world."
        McIntyre provides clear support for both of the premises of this argument (the first in terms of the four people enumerated above).  We are being led down a logical path, and the reasonable destination is that "the conclusion that evolution is purposeless is worthless."  The author does in fact state this, and does not commit a fallacy by doing so.  Such a conclusion follows from his second premise alone. ...  However, this is not the main conclusion McIntyre offers from the above premises.  Instead, it is the following:
        • Conclusion: "Correspondingly, with a logical fallacy incorporated into the theory of evolution, conclusions drawn from it cannot be trusted.  If conclusions from the theory of evolution cannot be trusted, then the theory of evolution is worthless — indeed, a fatal flaw."
        From discussing views of particular evolutionists, we have been subtly led astray by a red herring drawn across the track.  We suddenly find ourselves facing the momentous conclusion that the theory of evolution is worthless, that "this emperor of science has no clothes."

        The reason why this particular reasoning is a red herring and therefore fallacious is because there is no necessary connection between the views of these particular people and biological evolution per se.  The biological concept of evolution is not enslaved to the views of any or all evolutionists, much less a selected group of them.  If, on the other hand, this type of argumentation were valid, a Christian biologist could respond to a citation of G.G. Simpson and Richard Dawkins by enlisting such giants of evolutionary biology as Theodosius Dobzhansky and Francisco Ayala, both of whom have asserted their beliefs in a personal God and a divine purpose behind the evolutionary process.  The Nobel prize-winning Ilya Prigogine could be used to counter-balance Jacque Monod on the subject of chance.  Finally, W.T. Keeton and J.L. Gould's excellent introduction to evolutionary biology, which asserts that any attempt to make conclusions about the existence of God from scientific premises is a fallacy, could serve as a counterpoise to Futuyma's text.  .....
        A stream of prominent scientists and incisive quotes can therefore be provided to show that many believe in a harmony between biological evolution and the idea of divine purpose.  But, would these counterexamples to the "purposeless" view do anything to support the concept of biological evolution, and therefore preserve confidence in evolutionary biology?
        In fact, nothing of the sort is accomplished by appealing to the claims of particular biologists, because science (thankfully) does not work that way.  In science, there are no "leaders" in the field, in the sense of people who dictate what others should think.  Scientific concepts and hypotheses and conclusions are public domain, to be discussed, refuted, or corroborated by any individual on earth who is able and inclined to do the necessary work. ...  Scientists are almost always interested in discussing aspects not primarily of someone's thought, but of the external world.  A scientific publication that happens to conclude in opposition to a particular hypothesis focuses on the hypothesis, never (if it is worthy) on people.  To ignore or abandon this central feature of science misjudges the entire nature and worth of the enterprise.
        Science, as properly practiced, is never a matter of authority. ...  Scientific propositions stand on their own logical and empirical feet, not on the shoulders of any individual or group, no matter how illustrious.

        This particular species of red herring, where a system of thought is said to be refuted when in fact only the views of particular people have been, is of course not peculiar to creationists.  In addition, no claim is being made here that this is the most significant problem with creationism, nor is it even a necessary part of creationism.  To highlight a red herring in a creationist argument certainly does not undermine creationism, even if that fallacy often happens to be found in defense of such a position.  .....
        Lahti then describes two spiritual dangers (for apologetics & evangelism) when this "red herring" fallacy is used by Christians:
        First, most Christians are aware that this precise fallacy has been committed throughout modern times in an attempt to discredit Christianity. ...  [As a defense] one must divorce the opinions or actions of particular Christians from the tenets of Christianity and the person of Christ.  Our belief system and way of life revolve around Jesus alone as far as humans are concerned, and him precisely because he was not merely human.  Whenever creationists counsel other Christians to use the red herring strategy in their defense of a particular interpretation of Genesis, they are in effect endorsing it as a valid mode of argument not only for the Christian, but for the non-Christian.  If the red herring is perceived to work against evolution, it will be perceived to work against Christianity, and then the defense of the faith has been undermined.  .....
       Second, this particular kind of red herring, when used in the context of creationism, harms the evangelistic enterprise.  As the biblical quotation at the beginning of this paper illustrates [Titus 2:7-8, "In everything set them an example by doing what is good ... so they have nothing bad to say about us"], Christians are called to have integrity in their teaching and speech for the sake of the nonbeliever. ...  The attempt by creationists to dissolve opposition to Christianity by removing the intellectual obstacle of evolution with the red herring strategy, is likely to reflect badly on Christianity as a whole. ...  Others will notice the unfairness and be repulsed from our faith.
        Again, regardless of how widespread the red herring fallacy is in creationist argumentation, it is a danger that is extrinsic, rather than intrinsic, to the doctrine of creationism itself.  In other words, it is not claimed here to be a "fatal flaw" of creationism, but simply a flaw in some creationist argumentation.  It is not even claimed here to be the most serious flaw in such argumentation.  Nevertheless, besides the illogic of it, the spiritual danger that it poses is significant enough for critical mention to be made of it, and for a plea to be made that the fallacy be carefully excluded from any future creationist writing or argument.  Incidentally, it may be the case that the ability of creationists to defend their position rationally may suffer if this tool is not available to them.  However, this cannot be a major concern to anyone seriously in pursuit of the truth of the matter.  A victory achieved without intellectual integrity would be a hollow one indeed, especially for a Christian.

[editor's note:  In my opinion, Lahti's page is "the best of this bunch" and I encourage you to read all of it, including the text (and references) omitted in my condensation above.]

        In a response (December 2000, 2 k) McIntyre agrees with Lahti's criticism, but then adds an interesting question and illustration:

        ... In that article I had presented the statements of four evolutionists which included the logical fallacy that evolution has no purpose.  I had then drawn the conclusion that since evolution contained a logical fallacy, that the theory of evolution was worthless.
        Lahti makes the observation that "the reason why this particular reasoning is a red herring and therefore fallacious is because there is no necessary connection between the views of these particular people and biological evolution per se."  Lahti's observation that the validity of the theory of evolution does not depend on the opinions of particular people is certainly correct.  But his observation raises an interesting problem.  How many evolutionists have to believe that the theory of evolution is purposeless (with a fatal flaw) for the theory of evolution to be considered to be purposeless?
        Until September 1997, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) and the National Academy of Sciences defined evolution as "an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process."  This definition of evolution incorporates the fatal flaw since it says that evolution is unsupervised and impersonal.  In September 1997, the Board of the NABT deleted the words "unsupervised" and "impersonal" from the definition of evolution, thereby removing the logical fallacy from the definition.  However, the vote was divisive; the first vote of the Board was against the deletion of the words (see my Letter in the June 2000 PSCF for an account of the proceedings).  And, I have since read that there is a movement among some evolutionists to reverse the vote.  Evidently, a large number of evolutionists want to include the logical fallacy within the definition of evolution.  If the logical fallacy again becomes an official part of evolution (as it did until 1997), evolution would, again, have a fatal flaw.

comments from the editor:  Could the statement by NABT cause their claim about evolution — that it's an "unsupervised" process, with a lack of purpose — to become "an official part of evolution"?  It seems that here, as in his postmodern analysis of NABT's actions below (where he says "scientists obtain their results according to where the power is, ... logic is irrelevant"), McIntyre is making a claim that exceeds its logical support.

        As in his response to Lahti, when responding to Hayworth earlier (June 2000, 5 k), McIntyre agrees with Hayworth's criticism, then describes the actions of NABT:

        Hayworth makes the valid observation that the "fatal flaw" in the paper is not concerned with the science of evolution itself.  Rather, it is concerned with the logical fallacy of statements by evolutionists concerning the meaning of evolution.  And yet, the article is titled, "Evolution's Fatal Flaw."  .....

        The "fatal flaw" has not just been restricted to popular books [as in the four statements quoted in his paper, from Simpson, Monod, Futuyma, Dawkins].  The official definition of evolution by the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) in 1996 was: "The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution, an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process ..."  This official definition included the words, "impersonal" and "unsupervised" so that the official definition of the NABT also contained the "fatal flaw" [of "defining evolution as a process without a purpose"].
        However, as reported in the September 1999 issue of the Scientific American, historian Huston Smith and philosopher Alvin Plantinga were able to gain the attention of the NABT and inform them of the logical fallacy.  Now the story becomes almost hilarious.  In the fall of 1997, according to Scientific American, the Board of the NABT met to consider deleting the words, "unsupervised" and "impersonal," from the "Statement on the Teaching of Evolution" in order "to save biology teachers the grief of having to defend these words from the attacks of the creationists." (No mention of the logical fallacy of the words; the sole reason for changing the Statement was the attacks by the creationists.) Surprisingly, the Board voted down the proposal for the deletion of the words despite the logical fallacy the words introduced.  But, then the Board reversed itself for the sake of good "public relations."
        Here is an example of postmodernism with a vengeance.  In voting down the deletion of the two words, logic was flouted to obtain an invalid philosophical conclusion.  But then the decision was reversed because of the application of power (public relations).  As the postmodernists have claimed, scientists obtain their results according to where the power is.  Matters, such as logic, are irrelevant.  Fortunately, through their contortions with logic and power, the Board of the NABT arrived at the proper conclusion about the definition of evolution.

editor's comment:  These observations about postmodernism (in evolutionary science) have some validity, but are overstated.

        In a strangely triumphalist essay entitled "We Won" (September 1999, 4 k), John McIntyre seems very happy that:

        "Godless" evolution is dead!  After seven score years of relentless Christian pressure, an authoritative scientific voice, The National Academy of Sciences [NAS], has withdrawn the claim [formerly in its book about evolution, in an appendix containing the statement of NABT] that "evolution is an unsupervised, impersonal process."  Critics of Christianity can no longer assert that evolution denies the possibility of a personal God supervising the process of evolution. ...
        In conclusion, the content of biological evolution is no longer officially claimed to be impersonal and unsupervised.  Thus, the God of the Bible is no longer officially challenged by biological evolution.  As a consequence, when opposing textbooks continue to claim that evolution is impersonal and unsupervised, Christians need only point to the definition of evolution [by NABT/NAS] that does not include this claim.  The removal of such textbooks from the curriculum should naturally follow.  The Christian belief in a personal God who supervises the processes of creation will, then, no longer be challenged by evolution.

comment by editor:  McIntyre is giving far too much power to a mere statement by NABT (cited by NAS) because, whether or not NABT gives their official consent, some individuals will continue in their nonscientific claim that — if we mistakenly assume "natural" means "without God" — the scientific success of evolution (or any other scientific theory involving only natural process?) shows that God does not exist.